The catharsis of screaming versus the responsibility of voting

American Thinker, because of its prominence, ends up on a lot of mailing lists, both conservative and leftist. That’s why I received an email from the “Poor People’s Campaign” inviting caravans to descend upon both Sen. Mitch McConnell’s offices and his home on Monday to create a massive disruption. This plan will undoubtedly work to get people on the streets but will it get them into the voting booths? I have my doubts because of the nature of poverty.

The email is entitled “Caravans to protest at McConnell offices in Kentucky & home in DC on Poor People’s Campaign national Moral Monday.” The  purpose is to tell him to “stop the misery, meanness and mayhem created by his refusal to act in the greatest public health crisis of our times.” To do this, says the Poor People’s Campaign, McConnell must stop “suppressing the vote, sabotaging the USPS, stopping the stimulus, stealing healthcare, stifling living wages and separating families.” 

You probably didn’t know that separating families, a practice in which Obama vigorously engaged, was related to the Wuhan virus. You probably also did not realize that, when Rep. Nancy Pelosi walked away from the stimulus bill debate in the House and refused to enter into new negotiations when Trump made more generous offers, that this was all Sen. Mitch McConnell’s fault.

As a preliminary matter, I believe that the left’s newest tactic of swarming politicians at their homes needs to stop. It truly is one step away from packing people in tumbrils and then parading around with their heads on pikes. Moreover, because it’s inherently threatening to descend in a mob on someone’s home, these protests should not have the protection of the First Amendment right to assemble peaceably.

But that’s not actually the point I wanted to make. What was more interesting was the caravan organizer’s assurance that, if poor people would just be united, they can’t be defeated:

The Poor People’s Campaign has released a groundbreaking report titled “Unleashing the Power of Poor and Low-Income Americans: Changing the Political Landscape.” The report shows that poor and low-income people can change the political calculus of this nation in the presidential race in 15 states and 16 U.S. Senate races with just a small uptick in voting. More than 140 million poor and low-income people live in the United States, or 43% of the country’s population, and that was before the COVID-19 pandemic. The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, with organizing committees in 45 states, is building a moral fusion movement to address the five interlocking injustices of systemic racism, systemic poverty, ecological devastation, the war economy and militarism and a distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism. Our demands are reflected in our Jubilee Platform.

It sounds so easy. Get poor people riled up and they’ll file into the voting booths like lambs and kick that bad man Trump out of office, along with all the other Republicans withholding government goodies from the poor. The organizers, though, are missing a few important points.

For those poor people who want to rise out of poverty, Trump’s presidency has been the best thing to happen since the end of World War II. If you have a work ethic, you can make it in Trump’s America.

As for those poor people who do not want to or cannot work, the same deficits, pathologies, or behaviors that keep them poor also keep them from voting. One of the tragedies of poverty is that it is chaotic, with the poor bouncing from one crisis to another. Some are self-made crises (substance abuse or other poor lifestyle choices), some are health problems (both physical and mental), and some are just behavioral choices.

I have acquaintances among what I call “the permanently poor.” George Bernard Shaw’s delightful character, Alfred P. Doolittle, who proudly characterized himself as one of the “undeserving poor” whom charity had unfairly left behind, would have recognized these people as his modern descendants.

The permanently poor have no interest in the 60- or 80-hour workweek that helps one leave poverty behind. They don’t want affordable Obamacare when there’s free healthcare to be had in the emergency room. Many of them have low-level mental deficits, often connected to substance abuse. These include car accidents while under the influence, one too many bar fights, or just the gradual degradation of self that comes with chronic substance abuse.

The permanently poor whom I have known want a lifestyle of periodic work, easy access to beer, cigarettes, and pot, and a basic safety net. They’re not aiming for affluence. They just want their comforts.

And that gets me back to that email about besieging Sen. McDonnell at his home. Poor people may turn up for a political caravan so that they can rage and stomp. Doing that is fun, allows them to vent, and there’s probably a buzz from the feeling of power and camaraderie. However, my experience around many impoverished people tells me that, for them, no matter how fun the riot may be, sometimes the effort to vote is just too much.

Image: Still from a 1926 production of Pygmalion, with Henry Travers as Alfred Doolittle. Public Domain.